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Capitalism And Morality

Capitalism And Morality

5 Mins
March 2, 2015

Is business basically good in character or basically evil? Are objective values possible without freedom to trade? What is the source of technology, industry, and material wealth? Is the economy a pie that needs to be redistributed for the common good? And what is the "common good"?

What kind of political system does capitalism require? Why is physical force inimical to capitalism and to trade? What is the relation between capitalism and freedom, and between capitalism and individual rights? Today capitalism is still widely attacked in books and government and even in street protests. What is the reason for these attacks?

The answers to these important questions, and more, can be found in the following essays.

what is capitalism

Recommended background reading:
"What is Capitalism?" in
Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

Today we live in era of that some call the triumph of capitalism. But, as this essay shows, political thinkers and economists hardly know the meaning of capitalism. Rand explains what capitalism is, why it made the Industrial Revolution possible, and how it came to be vilified and almost universally misunderstood in the 20th century. "The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man's rational nature, that it protects man's survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice." Rand explains what conditions capitalism requires and maintains, and she conducts a searing attack on an interpretation of capitalism that was widespread in her time and remains common today.

The Two Faces of Capitalism
There are two fundamentally different types of business leaders because there are two very different means for achieving financial success. The first is the economic means: goods and services are voluntarily produced and sold to consumers in open competition. When profits are won by such economic means, private and public wealth is created, and virtually no one, except less-efficient competitors, are made worse off...

The second means: the political means. Entrepreneurs who take this route are sometimes referred to as "crony capitalists" or “political capitalists”: individuals who turn to government to supplement, and even override, consumer choice. And whenever these political capitalists win, consumers, business rivals, and/or taxpayers lose. Examples of political entrepreneurship include an industry establishing certification requirements to block the entry of new competitors, or a domestic seller acquiring tariffs to hamper foreign rivals.

Related: Read about the 2015 Atlas Shrugged Crony Awards

Food for Thought
Over the decades, talk of economic "inequality" waxes and wanes, and is currently on the front burner in America. As this classic essay points out, despite the use of numbers, this entire discussion is dominated by an image, the image of a pie that has appeared somehow on the table and must now by divided up. It is a false image, a mirage. Wealth, unlike fun, can be tallied numerically, but like fun it is not a collective phenomenon. Wealth is the product of individual thought, ability, and effort. Wealth is not found, but created, and the identity of the creators is a matter of public record. They are the inventors, entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers, and producers in every other line of work, who earn what they receive in voluntary exchange with others.

Video: What are Rights?
Political controversies and protests are often dominated by the theme of rights. We hear about a "right to health care," a "right to education," even a "right to high-speed Internet." In California, one man has even claimed a "right to longboard" on city sidewalks. Others claim there is no "right to health care" because such a right entails forcing others to pay for one's health care—and coercion they say is a violation of individual rights. How can we make sense of competing claims to rights? How can we gain a solid understanding of what rights are? In this video, economics professor and Atlas Society program director Will Thomas shares footage from recent rights protests and gives us a practical "tool" to use to evaluate claims of "rights."

The Capitalist Ideal: The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged
Rand's great achievement was to offer a vision of capitalism as a moral ideal. Her characters illustrate the virtues of rationality, production, and trade—and the vices of parasitism and power. The narrative dramatizes the struggle of producers against parasites and predators, and traces the consequences of that struggle across a whole society. And the meaning of these events is put into words, in speeches by various characters that lay out a new philosophy and moral code of individualism. In its characters, its plot and its philosophical themes, Atlas is about a new revolution, a capitalist revolution. It is truly The Capitalist Manifesto.

A Life of One's Own: Individual Rights and the Welfare State by David Kelley

"Anyone interested in the moral legitimacy of the welfare state must deal with the arguments in this book." —Ellen Frankel Paul, Editor, Social Philosophy and Policy

The welfare state rests on the assumption that people have rights to food, shelter, health care, retirement income, and other goods provided by the government. In this groundbreaking book, David Kelley examines the historical origins of that assumption, and the rationale used to support it today.

The Morality of Capitalism
Atlas Society founder and Chief Intellectual Officer David Kelley contributed an essay, "Ayn Rand and Capitalism: The Moral Revolution", to the 2011 book The Morality of Capitalism: What Your Professors Won’t Tell You. Read more about this popular book here.

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